As I Get Older, This Is What I Know Now

Featuring Dennis Jernigan Posted on March 4, 2008

Train up a child in the way he should go:
and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6 KJV

I’ve been leading out in worship for a long time now. Having just turned 49 years old, I have often taken time to ponder what the next phase of my life is. Will I ride off into the sunset? Will others see me as too old to be effective? Will my hands and voice and body wear out before I’m ready? Will I be deemed too old and irrelevant for ministry? Will I be forgotten? Those are good questions I guess – but they are not even the best questions to ask at this stage of the game. Those are the questions of insecurity and unbelief and are not the questions of a confident man of God that reflect his faith, trust, and hope in the Lord.

Such questions tend to throw me for a loop when I consider the ramifications of the answers. Of course my body and voice will one day wear out. Of course I will have my moment of riding off into the sunset…but irrelevant? Too old? Forgotten? I hardly think so!

When I was a young man, having just been set free and plunging headlong into worshipping God with everything I had in me, I felt as if I knew the answer to every question…probably because I felt so confident in THE Answer I had come to know – Jesus Christ – in a very intimate and healing way. Perhaps some of my know-it-all attitude came from my youthful exuberance and self-discovery as well. Needless to say, there were many times in my early ministry when I was convinced I had the inside track on what intimate worship and ministry truly looked like. When I married and began to have children, some of the rough edges of my zeal began to be weathered down to a tolerant level! When humility took hold in 1988 (that’s the summer the Lord led me to begin publicly sharing my story of deliverance from same-sex attraction…very humbling, to say the least), even more of the coarseness of my personality and arrogance began to give way to a deeper sensitivity and greater awareness of the feelings and wounds of those around me.

As humility gave way to a greater sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit, God began to birth my ministry of music. As people were ministered to by a certain song the Lord had given me, they would take that song to their own worship leaders and begin using it in worship. Before you knew it, my music had traveled around the world and I began to receive invitations to minister on a broad scale. When humility hit, I realized all too well that had it not been for the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ I would have no song to sing. I realized that had it not been for others around me who ministered deeply to my soul I would be the biggest mess of a life around! Humility led me to seek Jesus first and not a ministry…and opportunities for ministry began to flood into my life as a result.

I have been young, and [now] am old;
yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken,
nor his seed begging bread.
Psalm 37:25 KJV

Of course you would think I am speaking about leading worship (opportunities for ministry) for large gatherings around the country – and yes, there were many times where that was true – but ultimately I discovered that my greatest ministry was with whomever I happened to be at the moment. True ministry involves relationship – and you can have only a distant, almost one-sided relationship when you are the main attraction on the platform leading in worship. I discovered that my first ministry was to my wife…and then to my children….and then to my church family…and usually in my living room. As hurting people asked for a safe place to unload their burdens, our living room became that place. When those who battled same-sex attraction needed a safe place to get honest about their struggles without the fear of rejection, our living room became that safe place. When marriages were falling apart…when those who had become afflicted with AIDS…when some needed a warm roof over their heads for the night…when children or spouses were taken all too soon and grief was unbearable…our living room became the primary place of ministry. As we simply sought to lead people to the same freedom that we had been led to, worship was always the end result. Lead someone to freedom and the natural response is worship. So many nights in battle for a soul. So many tears through the years…all those countless hours one on one in ministry - and the occasional thought of what it might be like if I were out on the road building my public ministry. And all that public ministry that did take place? Just icing on the cake. My real ministry is with the person right next to me.

When I was a child, I used to speak like a child,
think like a child, reason like a child;
when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
1 Corinthians 13:11 NASB

Why do I share this? Bottom line. I will never be irrelevant if the needs of people are my focus. I will never be too old to minister as long as I keep pointing people to Jesus. I will always minister to my wife…my children…my church family…my friends. Reality is this: there are not enough hours in the day to minister to all the needs just right around me, much less worrying about whether I should lead worship for thousands, or tour, or have a radio single, or write the next great worship chorus!

It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
Joel 2:28 NASB

To all of your aging worship leaders and ministers reading this: if you still have breath, you are still relevant and still needed and not forgotten! Look around. There are people right around you who are desperate for someone to simply notice them. Where do you think my songs come from? I walk in relationship and songs are usually born out of desperate times of prayer and intercession! There – my secret’s out! I expect my dying breath to take place at the piano…or telling someone how much God loves them. I don’t expect to ever be irrelevant…just expect to walk from the relevance of the ministry of  worshipping God in this life and right into the relevance of  worshipping Him in the next. I challenge you to recall the zeal of your youth…and to hang out and worship with the next generation. Find out what their questions are. Find out what their needs are. Find out what their passions are…and then help them find the answers from your vast bank of wisdom which God has poured into your life through the many years of fire and trial!

To all of you young whipper-snappers reading this: the older I get, the less I realize I know about God. Even our greatest theologians can’t figure Him out! YOU DO NOT KNOW IT ALL!!! All I know is He is great and good and holy and loves in a redeeming way. I challenge you young men and women to seek out those who have walked the road before you. Do not discount them because of their age…just as you would not like someone of my age to look down on you and your ministry due to your youth. The generations that came before you are a rich resource of knowledge of the Lord…and a wealth of wisdom that only comes through many years of walking with the Lord. Why would you not avail yourself of this vast resource before it’s too late?

This is what I know. God loves me and my healing has come in loving Him. I cannot think of a better way to worship Him than to walk in this knowledge and live it out – one relationship at a time.